Featured Philosopher: Meena Krishnamurthy


Meena Krishnamurthy, the editor of Philosopher, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and in the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Michigan. She works in political philosophy on a variety of issues such as the value of democracy and the nature of our duties toward the global poor. The underlying theme that runs through her work is a concern with equality (political, economic, and social). She is currently writing a series of related papers on the work of some of the radical political thinkers mentioned below.

Decolonizing Analytic Political Philosophy[1]

Meena Krishnamurthy

[What follows is an excerpt from my remarks at the Canadian Philosophical Association’s  EquiT Panel on “Decolonizing Philosophy.” Thanks to Chike Jeffers for inviting me to participate and to the other speakers for their contributions.]

A story that I was often told as a student – indeed, one I have since retold my own students – is that contemporary analytic political philosophy began with John Rawls. After John Stuart Mill’s work on utilitarianism in the 19th century there was no further work in political philosophy, the debate was considered settled, until the publication of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, which was foremost a rejection of Mill’s utilitarianism.

I am not the only one who has been told this “standard story”. As Charles Mills’ notes, the standard story is one that is prevalent in the discipline and appears in works across analytic and continental political philosophy.[2]

I came to realize just how false this story was about two years ago. Two years ago, I decided that I would like to learn more about politics and political thought in India. I was interested in these things because my family is from India. My parents often talked about British colonialism and Indian independence. They also talked about how the dialogues between Gandhi and Nehru about these things shaped their own thoughts and experiences in India during the time. Essentially, I wanted to learn more about where my people were from and what shaped their history and thinking. At the time, I took my reading about these things to be recreational.

I began with Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s treatise on the immorality of British Colonialism and the moral importance of Indian self-rule. To get a better understanding of some of Gandhi’s views about non-violence and its importance in resistance, I turned to Martin Luther King Jr. as an American interpreter of Gandhi. I began with Why We Can’t Wait and then read many of King’s other books including Strength to Love, Stride Toward Freedom, and Where Do We Go From Here. This was only the beginning. To understand King better, I read Malcolm X and then slowly started reading the Black political thinkers who preceded both King and Malcolm X and shaped their thinking. I became fascinated with W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Booker T. Washington – thinkers who I would later come to realize influenced Gandhi (and some of his Indian critics) greatly.

What I came to realize was that this work was deeply philosophical and, more importantly for me, engaged with some of the most important questions in political philosophy about social, political, and economic inequality. What I also realized was that most of this work took place in the so-called dark times in political philosophy – when supposedly nothing was being written in political philosophy.

As the work of Gandhi, King, Malcolm X, Washington, Du Bois, and many others demonstrates, the dark times were not so dark. The years between Mill and Rawls were a very productive time.

Why then have these times been dubbed the dark and unproductive years? One answer is suggested by the (North American) academe itself, where thinkers like Gandhi and his Dalit critic B.R. Ambedkar are delegated to classes on “Indian Political Thought” in political theory or classes on Du Bois and Washington fall under “Black” or “African American Studies”. Among other things, what this suggests is that the work of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Du Bois, Washington, and many other radical political thinkers is not considered “philosophy”.

There are many reasons for why we should be worried about the exclusion of these thinkers from the discipline of philosophy.

The first reason is epistemological. Exclusion of this work from political philosophy is problematic because it means that political philosophy has not benefitted from the unique and distinct political insights of these thinkers. In my paper, “White Ignorance and Racial Oppression as a Transformative Experience,” building on an argument I trace back to Martin Luther King Jr., I argue that oppression involves a distinct phenomenal or what it is like experience, namely, the experience of what it is like to belong to a social category that is negatively valued by others. This is an experience that the racially oppressed are most likely to have. When Du Bois and King write about what makes racial oppression wrong it is based on their experience of what it is like to be racially oppressed. This is something that the racially oppressed are in the best position to do. The racially oppressed often have distinct knowledge claims to develop and convey. In excluding the voices of the oppressed we miss out on these distinctive contributions and we lose the opportunity to learn from them. As a result, our political theories of justice and equality may become epistemically distorted. To avoid this, we must take the voices of the oppressed and colonized seriously.

The second reason is social. On many people’s views, philosophy is in a state of crises. Academics and public intellectuals outside of professional analytic political philosophy believe that it has become irrelevant to today’s most important social and political struggles and, in turn, that it is disconnected from the concerns of today’s people. People are left wondering what the purpose of political philosophy is if it cannot be used to challenge today’s structures of injustice.

Many historical thinkers including Aristotle and Plato have held that philosophy’s true purpose is ultimately to aid us in ensuring the just and good life. If they are right about this, then including radical political thinkers in mainstream analytic political philosophy may bring us closer to realizing philosophy’s true purpose by helping us theorize about some of the most important political issues of our time.

Furthermore, it has been widely noted that philosophy also lacks diversity among its student body. In part, this may be because of philosophy’s lack of connection to real and lived social injustices. At least some (certainly not all) people of color, who are concerned with contemporary racism, for example, leave philosophy and turn to other disciplines to understand and address issues of racial injustice. Similar things can be said of those who are interested in colonialism. One reason for including such a broad range of thinkers is that we might be able to increase the number of minority students enrolled in philosophy courses and programs.

One might object, arguing that these sorts of reasons could be given in favour of counting almost anything as philosophy.[3] The real question, one might suggest, is whether the work of Gandhi and other radical political thinkers is actually philosophy.

This question brings us to the third reason for considering the work of Gandhi, Ambedkar, King, Malcolm X, Washington, Du Bois, and many other radical political thinkers as part of philosophy properly understood. Philosophy at its core is a method. It is the method of critical reflection, the giving of reasons in favour of one’s conclusions, and the consideration of potential objections to the reasons that one gives, and the development of responses to these objections. All of the thinkers that I have mentioned today engaged in this method. For example, following a tradition that can be traced to classical Hindu texts such as the Upanishads, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is written as a dialogue. (Gandhi was also an avid reader of Plato’s dialogues.) In it, Gandhi outlined his arguments in support of Indian home rule and he responded to concerns that are raised by an imagined interlocutor. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King responded critically to the 8 clergymen who asked him to wait patiently for justice. King’s letter was a rejection of the reasons that they gave for waiting and an argument in favour of immediate action. Du Bois developed his own views about the wrongness of racism and the best means to eradicate it. In Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois responded critically to the writings of Washington. Malcolm X not only developed his own original views, but did so in critical response to King and Gandhi’s work, among others. The works of these radical political thinkers are deeply philosophical (in the analytic sense).

The fact that the true philosophical nature of this work was and continues to be ignored suggests another and more pernicious reason for the exclusion of these thinkers from contemporary analytic political philosophy: namely, white supremacy.

The discussions that I have mentioned so far took place between people of color and, for the most part, only people of color. To consider an example in slightly more detail consider the work of Du Bois, Washington, Garvey, Gandhi, and Ambedkar. I focus on these thinkers only because my own current work is in relation to them and I think they are a good example of the phenomenon that I have in mind. Their work represents a discussion that took place between the four of them, four people of colour who were challenging the political systems of their time. Du Bois’s initial work was a response to Washington’s; Garvey’s was a response to Du Bois. Du Bois and Garvey were also responding and taking into account Gandhi’s work and thought. Ambedkar was responding not only to Gandhi, but taking into account Du Bois’s work on racism. It might be that this body of work has been traditionally discounted because it was not engaging with the work of other white philosophers. Unlike Rawls, this discussion did not take John Stuart Mill as its starting point. If a discussion wasn’t in response to or taking seriously or developing the thought of other white philosophers, then it seems that it wasn’t and still isn’t considered philosophy. As Charles Mills suggests, the “philosophical color line still exists.”[4]

Furthermore, it is important to note that this body of work challenges the white supremacy that underlies racial discrimination and colonialism more broadly. What we have then is a group of predominantly white philosophers discounting work done by philosophers of colour that challenges the legitimacy of an ideology and set of institutions that have worked to benefit white individuals.

In short, the genuinely philosophical nature of work by Indian and African American thinkers has been systematically ignored. To the extent that white voices are privileged and challenges to white supremacy are not considered to be real philosophy, philosophy as it is traditionally conceived may itself be understood an expression of white supremacy. This is perhaps the most important reason to “decolonize” philosophy. We should decolonize philosophy because if we don’t, then philosophy remains philosophy of the privileged. It would then be a philosophy not worthy of the name “philosophy.”

In response, it might be argued that, even if some works by radical political thinkers were philosophical, some of their writings were less so. More specifically, it might be argued, there are some works that did not engage in the philosophical method of giving reasons and considering and responding to objections.

I concede the point. Some of the works by the radical political thinkers I have mentioned may not themselves be works in analytic political philosophy. However, this does not mean that these works are not appropriate or good for philosophical consideration. Philosophy is a method that can be brought by us – the readers – to any work.[5] Pamphlets, journals, dialogues, plays, poetry, fiction, songs, and even visual art become appropriate grounds for philosophical exploration. In taking up this approach, we can develop reasons that are implicit in what is conveyed. We can develop an account of reasons that should have been developed given the other thoughts expressed by the author or creator. We can also imagine what we might give as reasons today in relation to whatever is being discussed or expressed by the creator. We can use the experiences that are described as a basis for making our own arguments about justice and the good life. Of course, these are just a few things we can do as part of engaging in the philosophical method when we approach diverse mediums. There are likely many other things that we can do when we approach something philosophically.

In short, we have good reasons for decolonizing philosophy and considering the work of both Indian and African American political thinkers as an important part of analytic political philosophy.

[1] My thinking here has benefitted from Charles Mills, Decolonizing Western Political Philosophy, New Political Science, 37:1, 1-24; John Drabinski, “Philosophy, Decolonization, #NotAllWhites” and Diversity, “Neutrality,” Philosophy; Eric Schliesser, “Pursuing the Truth in and about the Philosophy Canon; On The Very Idea of Western Philosophy”; Jay L. Garfield and Bryan W. Van Norden “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is”; Lisa Shapiro, “What is a Philosophical Cannon” Thanks also to Esa Diaz Leon for feedback on an earlier draft.

[2] Charles Mills, Decolonizing Western Political Philosophy, New Political Science, 37:1, 1-24 at pp. 5-7.

[3] This line of argument can be found here, Amod Lee, “Why philosophy departments have focused on the West.” 

[4] Mills, “Decolonizing Western Political Philosophy,” p. 8.

[5] On this see Lisa Shapiro, “What is a Philosophical Cannon,” p. 14. Shapiro has a somewhat different understanding of what constitutes a philosophical work. On her view, there is no preferred method of doing philosophy. What is most central is the questions that drive the work. I agree that questions are central to analytic philosophy to the extent that they are often part of the analytic method itself, the method of giving reasons for an argument (i.e., rhetorical questions) and raising objections (through questions). Questions are relevant, however, only because they are part of the preferred analytic method.



33 responses

  1. I love the work you’re doing to decolonize philosophy and shift away from the Western “canon” as that which sets the direction of our discussions in moral/political philosophy. And what a great evolution from Philosop-her to Philosopher. Congrats and thank you for your important work.

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  4. Thank you for this. I am very interested in Gandhi and Ambedkar as well as King, Malcolm X and others. You have provided great insight here.

  5. Many fields have false stories about their own history, and the mistaken idea that one work was considered to have “settled the debate” until the publishing of a later work is also common. You say the story in political philosophy goes that J.S. Mill’s work was thought to have settled the debate until Rawls revived it with his work. In historical Jesus studies, the story is that Albert Schweitzer settled the debate in 1906 until Ernst Käsemann revived the debate in 1953. But in reality there was plenty of research between that time, and this work was done by British and German scholars, not by scholars from neglected countries. So the forgotten gap in the history of political philosophy might not be solely due to colonization. Although, that probably is a factor. And you are right that it is unfair that writers from other countries often aren’t considered philosophers and are instead considered under “African American studies” (or something similar).

  6. Thanks to everyone for the kind words. Bryan – Thanks for reminding me of that piece. It is really unfortunate that Eugene Park had that sort of experience. My own experience is that the culture in philosophy is changing for the better. There seems to be a genuine and growing commitment among many philosophers to diversify the voices within philosophy. That said, there is still work to be done. I worry that journals are perhaps the biggest barrier to change. I mean when is the last time you saw a paper that dealt with King or Gandhi in one of the best ethics or political philosophy journals? There are likely a few, but my guess is that there are very few pieces of this type. I’m hoping this will change as people view engaging with this work as a legitimate part of philosophy. Thanks, Brian, for writing your stimulating piece. It restarted a very important discussion.

  7. Two thoughts: (1) Great job on the important tracing out of the lines of influence within a group of 20th century political philosophers, who, notably, are engaging in political philosophy from a very real political reality. I was prompted to think about how thinkers like Frantz Fanon fit in, or equally, of how the many social and political philosophers of Latin American or Africa fit in. Indeed, there is a long list of philosophers writing in the 20th century as countries transition from colonial to post-colonial governance we could be reading. Open the can of worms!

    (2) Thanks for the shout out. However, I’m not sure we do disagree, Meena. I think we, contemporary analytic philosophers, as readers do bring a method of reasoned argumentation to our readings, but that does not entail that the works we are reading exhibit explicitly that same method. On my view, we can nonetheless share a philosophical project with the works we are reading: we are interested in the same philosophical questions, for instance, the nature of justice. The preferred method of doing philosophy is somewhat historically contingent, but that at any given moment (amongst a particular group) there is a preferred method doesn’t entail that there is only one method or that we can only engage with those who share our preferences.

    These discussions are so heartening! I love that people are reading widely again.

  8. Insightful and convincing.

    I wonder if there’s a truth in the vicinity of the false claim that, “After John Stuart Mill’s work on utilitarianism in the 19th century there was no further work in political philosophy, the debate was considered settled, until the publication of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, which was foremost a rejection of Mill’s utilitarianism.” Is there? I honestly don’t know. (Maybe that’s because know next to nothing about political philosophy.)

    Here’s a comparison that might (or might not) be worth considering. I have heard it said that there were no major advances in deductive logic between Aristotle and Frege. That claim is false (and importantly so). But consider a weaker claim: in the years between Aristotle and Frege, no one advanced our understanding of deductive logic to the extent and depth that Aristotle and Frege did. Maybe that’s false too. But I suspect that there’s some truth in the vicinity. I could be wrong. I’m not expert in the history of logic either (I work on consciousness and physicalism). But I’ve heard experts say enough things along those lines to justify my suspicion.

    The are clear disanalogies. The figures you cite (e.g., King, Ghandi) might well have advanced our understanding of political philosophy to the extent and depth that Mill and Rawls did. But is there something significant those figures didn’t do that Mill and Rawls (and no one in between) did? Maybe something like: develop a systematic, detailed, highly abstract theory of justice a single, long book or essay? Maybe that won’t work either. Maybe there’s nothing here. And even if there is, that doesn’t in any way threaten your argument, which I accept.

    • Torin – Thanks for this. You raise some really important questions and you’ve given me a lot to think about. Toward the end of your post, you grant that the work of Gandhi and King advanced on thinking of the time. So, I won’t address that question. Your main question seems to about whether Gandhi and King were systematic thinkers. First, it is unclear what you think is required to be a systematic thinker. Must one write a treatise? Must one’s view cohere together in a neat package? Must one focus on abstract analysis? All of these things are suggested in your post and whether Gandhi and King are “systematic” in your sense will depend on what you mean by “systematic. Second, no matter what you might mean by “systematic”, it isn’t clear that one has to be “systematic” to be a philosopher. Many contemporary political philosophers do not write books or treatises anymore. This is true of some that we take to be historical philosophers such as the presocratics. Furthermore, some engage in situated non-abstract theory. Yet, they are still considered philosophers. Second, I would argue that King and Gandhi were both systematic thinkers in the sense that they tried to develop (over time) a coherent and complete theory. Both Gandhi and King wrote prolifically. King wrote many books (see above). Gandhi only wrote one book and an autobiography, but he was the editor of two newspapers, the Indian Opinion (in South Africa) and Young India (in India). He wrote many pieces for these papers, and I think when taken together they represent a solid body of work. My own work on King, especially the work in progress “King on the Value of Distrust, is an attempt to show that King had a systematic and well developed account of moral motivation and moral progress. In the future, my goal will be do some similar work on Gandhi. I would also argue that similar things could be shown with respect to Du Bois and Garvey. To summarize, while I’m not sure that one must be systematic in one’s thinking to be a philosopher (especially in the current understanding of what it is to be a philosopher), I would argue that many of the radical political thinkers that I have mentioned are indeed systematic thinkers. Thanks for pushing me to think this through further.

  9. Meena (if I may): Thanks for that thoughtful reply. I’m glad I’ve raised new questions. Your answers sound right to me.

    Btw, I didn’t mean to imply that only systematic philosophy is (philosophically) significant. That would be highly implausible. (If memory serves, David Lewis wrote, in his collected papers, that he wishes he were a piecemeal philosopher; I doubt he so wished because he wanted his work to be philosophically insignificant!) Nor did I mean to imply that the work of King, et al., is (or isn’t) unsystematic. I defer to experts like yourself on the matter. I raised the issue of being systematic in an attempt to formulate a claim that stood a chance of being both true and in the vicinity of the claim you refute in your post. What you say in your reply convinces me that my attempt failed. That don’t surprise me. But that doesn’t answer the general question I raised: is there a true claim in the vicinity of the claim you refute? In other words, is there something philosophically significant that Mill and Rawls did but no one who wrote in between them (including King, et al.) did not do? Perhaps the answer is “no” (that’s what I mean when I wrote, “Maybe there’s nothing here.”). If so, that strikes me as interesting–though probably a good deal less interesting than the argument you present in your post and those you present in the papers you mention.

  10. Torin – Thanks for the follow up. I might be missing something in your comments, but, in a sense, I want to resist this debate about “differences” entirely. Of course, there are things that both Mill and Rawls did that were different from King and Gandhi. The content of these works is very different. Rawls explicitly articulated principles of justice, developed Kant’s theory, responded to Mill, etc. Gandhi and King don’t do these things explicitly (or at all). I am not denying the uniqueness of Rawls’s and Mill’s work or the contributions that they made. I’m also not seeing why looking for something that Mill and Rawls did that the others did not do is important unless this bears on the question of what philosophy is. In general, in analytic philosophy, what matters most is the method that I describe above. Systematicity, or anything else, really isn’t of significance, or so I would argue. To the extent that the above radical political thinkers are analytic thinkers, I believe they should be part of the philosophical canon.

    Additionally, my point is that King and Gandhi and the others stand to make a significant and unique contribution to discussions in political philosophy because of what makes them different from Mill and Rawls (i.e., their focus on racism, colonialism, empire). That said, all of these thinkers do share things in common. All of them, in different ways, are concerned with the question of what makes a just society. King and Gandhi, like early Rawls, also share an interest in moral education and moral motivation. They also care about civil disobedience. They share many other things in common as well. This is something also worth discussing! Thanks again for the thoughts.

  11. Meena: Thanks for the reply to my follow-up. I don’t think you’re missing anything in my comments. I guess I was thinking that if Mill and Rawls did something interestingly differently than the others, then this might shed light on meta-philosophy (or at least on meta-political-philosophy). But as you’ve shown, the only candidate I suggested for making the antecedent of that claim true fails. For what it’s worth,I think you’re right on all counts.

    • Thanks, Torin. I appreciate this. I’ve really enjoyed thinking through the questions you are raising. It’s been very helpful.

  12. Very glad to read that. And again, thanks so much for taking the time reply to my posts.

    Btw, I was curious about this remark:

    “In my paper, “White Ignorance and Racial Oppression as a Transformative Experience,” building on an argument I trace back to Martin Luther King Jr., I argue that oppression involves a distinct phenomenal or what it is like experience, namely, the experience of what it is like to belong to a social category that is negatively valued by others.”

    I’d like to know more about that idea, which sounds intriguing. For example, is this a case of so-called cognitive phenomenology? And if so, does it matter for your purposes whether or not one thinks cognitive phenomenology is irreducible (in the way that Charles Siewert and others argue)? Are there phenomenally distinctive emotional experiences involved? I tried to look at the paper, but it doesn’t appear to be linked to the abstract on https://meenakrishnamurthy.net/papers/. When your ready to distribute the paper (or relevant parts), I’d like to take a look.

    • Torin – Thanks for the interest. I’ll send you the paper, which should be finished in the next few weeks. I’d like to talk more with you about the connections to cognitive phenomenology. At this point, I’m still thinking about the connections. More on this in the near future.

      • I just recently read something good on cognitive phenomenology (by Benedicte Veillet and Carruthers) and that reminded me of your paper. Just writing to say I’m still interested when you’re ready to distribute a draft.

      • Thanks so much for the continued interest. I should have a complete draft that is ready for distribution by the end of the summer. I will definitely send it your way. Thanks again.

  13. Thank you so much for this, Meena. And for dedicating the near future of this blog to showcasing the work of philosophers of colour. I’ve been feeling very disillusioned lately about the treatment of philosophers of colour, non-Anglo-American philosophies (construed broadly to include the thought of American figures like MLK that have been excluded from the A-A canon), and issues surrounding race in analytic philosophy. I’ve been secretly wondering if this philosophy thing is worth it, whether I’d be better off keeping my head down and planning my way out, since it is so easy to feel that one is alone in the struggle. This post, and your ongoing series, reminded me that we need not take this lying down or quietly retreat in the face of it, since we can and should come together to work to challenge and change things for the better.

    • JT – Many many thanks for your comment. I have also wondered many times whether I should remain in philosophy for many different reasons. This might be overly optimistic, but I believe that we are truly at a turning point in philosophy. If we keep raising these issues and doing the work (research and otherwise), things can only continue to improve (or at least so I hope).
      In solidarity,

  14. Thanks to Meena for this important piece, and my gratitude for the citation. (The journal volume number is reversed: it should be New Political Science, Vol. 37, not Vol. 73.) As someone who graduated decades ago (1985), when the field was far whiter (if you can concede that that is even possible) than it is now, both demographically and conceptually, let me say that I completely understand your frustrations. I too thought of quitting more than once. But I hung in there and, along of course with many others–pioneering African American philosophers foremost among them–contributed to creating a body of work that became Critical Philosophy of Race, which younger scholars interested in these issues now have as a reference point. I see Naomi Zack is a forthcoming blogger; as she will be able to tell you, she is editing the forthcoming OXFORD HANDBOOK ON PHILOSOPHY AND RACE, in the prestigious Oxford Handbooks series. Believe me, in our time it was unthinkable that race–a subject for the stigmatized “group” meetings at the APA, or conferences at HBCUs–could ever achieve such respectability. Just ask Leonard Harris, who tried to interest the publishers at the APA book exhibit in the manuscript of PHILOSOPHY BORN OF STRUGGLE: ANTHOLOGY OF AFRO-AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY FROM 1917, and was turned down by every single one. So believe it or not, progress has been made, as the very existence of this blog and others like it testifies, not to mention the dozens of volumes on race, AfAm philosophy, etc. that now exist, many published by the top presses in the field; the election to group division presidencies of people who have race as a main research focus; the increased interest by mainstream types, and so forth. Philosophy can change, but it’ll take much longer if, out of a sense of hopelessness, people drop out, So hang in there (admittedly easier for me to say, as a full professor, etc.)
    Charles Mills

    • Dear Charles – Many thanks for reading the post. It was clearly very inspired by your piece on decolonizing philosophy. Thanks also for fighting the good fight. I’m glad that you too are feeling optimistic about the possibility of genuine change.

    • Dear Charles – I have corrected the mistake in the citation. Thanks for bringing my attention to it.

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  16. Thanks for this essay, Meena, I enjoyed it immensely. Do you know Nalini Bhushan (Smith College)? She is doing very important and exciting work in this area, too. Happy, too, to learn that someone at UM is challenging the analytic philosophy’s tunnel vision. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  17. PS. The claim that no significant activity in political philosophy occurred between Mill and Rawls bespeaks an shocking narrow-mindedness even from the standpoint of ‘Western’ philosophy, as it excludes a large swath of Continental philosophers including Marx, Engels, Lenin, Plekanov, Gramsci, Bukharin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and the entire Frankfurt school (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkeimer) as well as USA philosophers such as John Dewey, Max Eastman, and Sidney Hook.

      • James and Pete – Thanks for this. Here, I was mainly focused on “analytic political philosophy”. Any thoughts about why continental philosophy was excluded from “Western” philosophy?

  18. The idea that, say, Theory of Justice, a 500+ page book on moral equality with a section on civil disobedience, is simply an expression of “white supremacy” is ludicrous. The more you attempt to define downward “white supremacy,” the less useful will this concept be, and the less serious will you appear.

    • JL – I am big fan of Rawls. Indeed, my first publications were on Rawls. To be clear, I am not arguing that Rawls’s work was an expression of white supremacy. Rather, I am arguing that the exclusion of other work was an expression of white supremacy.

  19. You explicitly acknowledge that some of the works you list “did not engage in the philosophical method of giving reasons and considering and responding to objections.”

    Political philosophers engage in the philosophical method of giving reasons and considering and responding to objections. Why would political philosophers ignore works that don’t engage in this activity? Well, maybe it’s because they’re all white supremacists. Or, maybe it’s because they are, *by definition*, engaged in a different project. This is not, of course, to say that their project is inherently better or in no need of correction; indeed, I agree that political philosophy should take up a broader range of concerns. But the Inference to White Supremacy is just histrionic.

    Additionally, the attempt to shoehorn these other figures into the category of ‘analytic philosophy’ is its own sort of parochialism. They weren’t analytic philosophers… and that’s ok! They were deep thinkers, their worked touched on philosophical themes, and, more importantly, profoundly transformed lives, and I think analytic political philosophers should mine their works for philosophical insights to develop into arguments. However, claiming that their work is not analytic philosophy is merely a descriptive claim about style and method. Again, the Inference to White Supremacy is premature, to say the least.

    Glad to see you’re a big fan of Rawls. Presumably, then, you’re aware of his reference to King’s Letter in Part 53 of Theory of Justice. Not entirely sure how to square that with the exclusionary white supremacy line

    • JL – Thanks for the response. As I suggest, I do think that these thinkers were participating in the project of analytic political philosophy. I do argue that even IF they weren’t works in analytic philosophy, we could (and can) still engage with these works as analytic philosophers. So, there is a genuine question as to why analytic political philosophers have tended to ignore such works.

      Regarding the footnote in Rawls. I am, of course, familiar with it. I would argue that Rawls’s thoughts on civil disobedience are in many ways in-line with MLK’s or, more accurately, can be read as a development of MLK’s own views on the matter. The fact that Rawls only cites MLK once, however, is actually in some sense a disservice to MLK since, I would argue, that King’s influence was much greater than this footnote suggests. Finally, I do think that Rawls was a truly open minded thinker. I don’t doubt that he took the views of MLK seriously, even if he didn’t cite them in full. However, while Rawls may have been open minded, the field didn’t continue in that trend.

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